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Los Angeles School Board Promises More Green Space, Shade For More Schools

Young children play with tiny hurdles placed between striped lines outlining a racecourse on a blacktop surface as a teacher looks on.
Students play in a recreation yard at LAUSD's Fair Avenue Early Education Center in North Hollywood in February, where shade trees are in short supply and the need for improvements is "very high."
(Kyle Stokes
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A proposal that would ensure all of Los Angeles Unified School District’s school campuses are at least 30% green by 2035, passed a board vote today.

Los Angeles School Board Promises More Green Space, Shade For More Schools

Currently, only 107 out of LAUSD’s 671 campuses meet that 30% threshold, with some elementary schoolyards having less than 1% of green space on campus, according to LAUSD’s compiled Green Index.

The goal of the Green Schools for All proposal is to provide LAUSD students with outdoor learning areas, which research suggests can benefit students' well-being. There's also the issue of shade equity — that people and schools in the city's higher-income neighborhoods have more trees and cooler campuses.

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“It’s really concerning, especially in these heat waves, to be sending our children to playgrounds that are full of asphalt with temperatures over 100 degrees,” said Daniela, a mother of 2 who called in to the board meeting on Tuesday during public comment.

What Happens Next?

Board president and District 6 representative Kelly Gonez authored the resolution. It calls on the superintendent’s office to formulate a plan that meets several criteria:

  • Prioritize schools with the lowest green spaces/access to green spaces and in communities most affected by extreme heat and climate change
  • Emphasize greening in early education centers, primary centers, and elementary schools, where outdoor play is a staple of the school day, with a special focus on elementary schools with 10 percent or less in green space
  • Develop the plan in collaboration with environmental experts, community-based partners, educators, students, and families, and include future opportunities for community input as specific site plans are put together.

This $50 million plan is set to also remove portable classrooms to create 2,000 square feet of natural shaded spaces at 150 schools identified in LAUSD’s Green Index.

The board gave Superintendent Alberto Carvalho until late February to deliver details on implementation.

Earlier this month, Gov. Gavin Newsom approved a proposal from the state legislature to provide $150 million toward campus greening efforts. The board tasked Carvalho's office with analyzing how that and other already available money might be applied toward the Green Schools for All initiative.

What Does ‘Green’ Mean?

Aleigh Lewis, co-founder of Angelenos for Green Schools, addressed the Board wearing a green shirt. “Many people are here today wearing green because they ask the question, ‘what does the district mean by green?’,” said Lewis.

She pointed out the resolution’s lack of a climate office, which Lewis feels is necessary to keep districts accountable in the efforts outlined in this resolution.

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“The resolution reads, ‘safe and sustainable green space to the extent feasible,’ which seems like it will create loopholes for facilities and asset management to not include green space in their designs if there’s not more oversight by experts,” Lewis said. “It can’t be a green space for all if it can’t be at all schools.”

The board resolution cites criteria from the Collaborative for High-Performance Schools (CHPS), a nonprofit collaboration between utility companies that provides standards around school design, construction, and operation.

Minimum Requirements

Those standards offer the district some amount of leeway, although do include minimum requirements in terms of biodiversity, materials, and other related areas. For example:

  • No asphalt and other impermeable hard surfaces and no lawn requiring maintenance.
  • Incorporate at least 3 native tree and plant varieties … that provide seasonal shade.
  • Square footage shall be large enough for at least 36 students to move freely

Students like Sim Bilal, an organizer with Youth Climate Strike Los Angeles, is skeptical about how effective the greening initiative will be.

“We've seen [the Board of Education] claim that they would take initiative and a stance so many times before,” he said. “And like you know … very rarely do we actually see them follow through on it.”

Look Up Your LAUSD Campus

What questions do you have about K-12 education in Southern California?
Kyle Stokes reports on the public education system — and the societal forces, parental choices and political decisions that determine which students get access to a “good” school (and how we define a “good school”).